Doctoral Update: where am I? (Part one).

Doctoral Update: where am I? (Part one).

I am writing this blog post more for myself than any other reason. That’s because I think that, firstly, I need to take a moment and reflect upon where I am at as we approach the end of the third year of my doctorate, and secondly, because I wanted to reflect on my recent thinking. This will be an effort to do both.

Firstly, a Ph D must make an original contribution to theory, backed by research and fieldwork. Therefore, there must be a theoretical basis for my research – I must select through which lens (and I’m aware that metaphor has limitations) I’m going to view my data, and how my interpretation of that data will influence my contribution to theory. After all, if I approach my work through the lens of critical theory, then that will necessarily mean something very different than if I approach it through a postmodernist or poststructuralist perspective.

So, let’s restate my position.

I’m exploring the ways that education contributes to the development of justice oriented citizens. The title of my thesis is ‘The possibilities and challenges for ‘thick’ citizenship education amongst Australian stage 5 students in a digital age.’ Although my supervisor and I devised that title almost three years ago, I think that it still fits my topic well.

I’m interested in this topic because, based on my experiences, I think that schooling is an effective means of disempowering young people, rather than doing what I (and, it should be mentioned, the Federal Government) think is important – preparing young people to take an active role in society by empowering them to act as participants, not consumers, in democratic society.

Normally, this is called ‘active citizenship’. Apparently, in Australia (and around the world), education is doing this poorly – young people are supposedly less engaged in civic and social institutions than ever before. Whether this is actually true, or is simply failing to reflect the changes in the way that young people engage with society, is a matter of debate. The reasons for this decline – if it is happening – is equally a matter of debate.

I think the idea of ‘justice oriented’ citizenship is better, anyway. It suggests an engagement with the macroeconomic causes of injustice – and a commitment to working to addressing these injustices. In these cases, injustice is not caused by personal failings, but rather structural inequalities. It’s a Marxist way of looking at the world, it’s true, and this is problem one: where does this fit in in a poststructuralist paradigm?

It is my belief that maximal education processes – where they way things are taught is as important as what is taught – aid in the development of such justice oriented citizens. This is problem number two: if this is the case, and such approaches are important, why do they work?

This is where theory comes into it. If I take, for example, the work of Robert Putnam, who explored social capital, is this kind of educational process a success because it increases the social capital of the participants in the project? Is social capital an essential attribute of a justice-oriented citizen? If it is, how does one best develop this in an educational institution?